In this series, we will be exploring the various roles of leaders.  Whether you lead a small team, a mid-size company, a non-profit organization or a multi-national corporation, these roles are critical for you and your team’s success.  The first role we will explore is that of encourager.  The root meaning of the word is actually to “give courage” or to “enable courage”.  That’s a powerful thought in and of itself.  Being an encourager is much more than just a pat on the back.  Being an encourager means that you are a “giver of courage”.

Who needs courage?

In a word, everyone.  The new programmer getting ready to send his first program to QA. The QA Analyst that finds a bug in a the programmer’s code. The customer service representative that takes complaints from customers. The Accounts Receivable clerk that has to collect from angry customers. The design engineer that has come up with an innovative approach that will change how they look at their product line. The engineer that needs to tell product development that their new design has a flaw. The leader who needs to step up in front of his team and give them bad news.  The leader that needs to step up and give his team great news.  Everything we do takes courage.

We sometimes forget this.  Perhaps it is because what we do seems natural and easy for us to do.  Perhaps it is because we have become numb to fear because we have to face it every day. Let’s consider both of these in why we sometimes don’t play the encourager role like we should.

We downplay what comes easily to us

There are some things that come easily to me.  Math, for one.  I can quickly calculate what I consider “simple math” (adding, multiplying) and often in my head without writing it down.  I can write these blog entries pretty quickly.  I’m a fast writer.

So, when someone tells me they are stressed about getting their blog entry written, I have a tendency to downplay it.  Why?  Because it seems easy to me.  An encouraging leader speaks to the person about what their roadblocks are.  He or she will ask good questions and help them figure out some ideas to be more effective.  They will give ideas to help them overcome their roadblocks.  And, they will share how they have had to face those challenges as well, and how they overcame them.  In fact, the idea that someone else has overcome the struggles you face is one of the greatest sources of encouragement.

We become numb to the fear we face every day

There are some things that I hate to do that are part of my job.  Calling people is one thing that I hate to do (if it’s not a scheduled call).  I also hate going to a networking event and walking into a room full of strangers.  Even though I am an extrovert and love interacting with people, I struggle with getting the courage up to talk to a total stranger.  At some networking events, I overcome it.  At others, I shrink into a corner and blend into the wallpaper.  Fortunately, there are fewer of the latter these days.  That’s because I am becoming more and more comfortable with putting myself out there and talking to strangers about what I do.

The next time one of your team tells you that they are facing a fear that you struggle with as well.  Invite them to walk along with you.  In my case, when someone tells me they hate going into a networking event with strangers, I always invite them to come along with me so we can face our fear together.  That’s encouragement.  That’s building courage in another person.

Simple Ways to be an Encourager

So how can a leader be a giver of courage?  It’s easier than you might think.  Here are some simple suggestions:

  • Find value in who they are, instead of what they do.
  • Give direction when they seem lost, don’t just tell them to get back on the path.
  • Find work that is productive for them and strengthens them, and find ways to move unproductive work to someone who enjoys it.
  • Rebuke when necessary, but in a way that helps correct their course.
  • Demonstrate courage, resolve and conviction in your own actions, instead of constantly worrying about the road ahead.
  • Be specific in giving feedback and don’t allow them to come to false conclusions.
  • Listen to their ideas – and I mean listen.  Find ways to shape and use their idea instead of shooting it down or dismissing it altogether.
  • When they have an idea, respond with “wow” instead of “how”.  (more on this in a future post).

What is common among all of these?  It takes work, effort, and intentionality on the part of the leader.  Being a leader is an honor, not a right.  And part of that responsibility, I believe, is to serve those on your team. It also means that you need to know and understand the wants and needs of your team members.  A good leader should know this, but if they need help, they can use a behavior assessment like DISC to help identify the needs and motivators of each team member.

I work with leaders every day in organizations of all sizes.  One of the biggest challenges I hear expressed is whether they are properly engaging with their team members and whether they are respecting their personal values and the need for balance in their life.  As a coach, I help them understand their gaps and put a plan in place to better engage and encourage their employees.  If this sounds like something you could benefit from, schedule some time with me to talk.